Heavy side spin service return

Table Tennis General

Last updated 7 years ago

Steve Unknown

Steve Unknown Asked 14 years ago


I recently played in a tournament where a player had a side spin serve.  However, the spin was so heavy that I kept chopping/pushing the ball out to the left of the table (out of bounds).  We were tied in a game to 11 at 5-5 but he ended up winning the game 11-6 since he served to me that same heavy side spin serve about 4 times in the match (on which I could not return with a back hand push and a chop)

 Do you have any suggestions on what action I should use against such a serve?  Do I need a special/strong rubber to counter heavy side spins?

 I love your advice on other questions and would definitely appreicate if you shed some light onto this situation.



Alois Rosario

Alois Rosario Answered 14 years ago

Hi Steve,

The key is to angle your bat so that the ball then moves more to the right.

Use your bat like a rudder to steer the ball over to where you want it to go and counter where the spin is taking it.

Keep it that simple and you will start to learn how to counter such sidespin serves.

Remember it is a frustrating thing to do because it takes our brains a while to adjust.  It will happen eventually and you will wonder what all the fuss was about.

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Thoughts on this question

Andrew T

Andrew T Posted 14 years ago

Hey guys,

I usually have trouble returning this serve too, even though ironically it is my best serve.  My take on returning serves with sidespin is to try to hit the ball in the direction that the ball is spinning towards to varying degrees.  For example if the ball is spinning to your right, aim towards the right as the ball will bounce off your racket to the left.

Andrew T

Jon Ferguson

Jon Ferguson Posted 12 years ago

A very good player at our club suggested the following- aim the tip of your blade towards the direction of movement of the server, and strike the ball with a short jabbing motion to reduce contact time. This will return a lot of the spin back to your opponent. Using a pimple-out rubber helps to reduce the grip of the ball on the blade, but is not essential.

So if the server's blade moves to your left, aim your blade to your left, at roughly a 45 degree angle. You also need to watch for side/back spin, pure side spin, or side/ top spin. This governs the "tilt" of your blade.

Using the flick technique is  possible too if the ball bounces high enough close to the net.

Jon Pia Ferguson 


Alois Rosario

Alois Rosario from PingSkills Posted 12 years ago

HI Jon,

That is an idea.  I think though that experience is essential to allow for the small differences in the spin and as you pointed out to allow for the different types of spin. 

Jon Ferguson

Jon Ferguson Posted 12 years ago

Spoke to Ron again(the very good player), and he added that this is just a starting point for practice. He also said that you should strike the ball at a similar point as the server, and your blade angle should mirror his(or hers).

So if the server strikes the ball towards the bottom, so should you. If he strikes toward the top, so should you.

Also, watch carefully his blade angle when the ball is struck- you should copy that angle when returning the serve. 

He emphasized that this is just a starting point for practice with a live partner, NOT a robot, as robots don't have the arm movements and bat angles that are necessary to read the spin. From here, you can start to control ball placement and employ tactics, etc., instead of just hitting the ball and hoping for the best.

Hope this helps,

Jon Ferguson 


RJ K Posted 7 years ago

Another solution to this is to mimic the same spinning motion that the server made on the return.  So if the server emits side-spin paddle motion going from his left (your right) to his right (your left) you do the exact same thing back when your return the ball - you hit it using a sideways paddle motion going from your left to your right.   This cancels out their spin and sends it right back at them  You do the same when they are going their right (your left) to their left (your right) - you mimic that motion when contacting the ball going from your right to your left soft of paddle motion.  This seems a lot easier to do than trying to find the correct angles and things.   One disadvantage of this technique is if there is an especially fast and heavy side-spin serve going into an awkward 'hard to reach' angle where you can't implement any sideways motion of your own that easily in the return (no time) but for the lower level and intermediate players and older less agile bodies, you are doomed anyway with returning super fast serves so just give them that point and be done with it. 

Alois Rosario

Alois Rosario from PingSkills Posted 7 years ago

This is a very risky way of returning.  Much better to learn the angle over time.

Jon Ferguson

Jon Ferguson Posted 7 years ago

RJK-    Your comment makes sense in theory, but, as Alois said, the angle approach is actually easier to learn for a less experienced player.

Watching games on You Tube, I see the 'go with the spin' technique often performed by top level players when returning serve, and it can be very effective, as the sudden surprise angle off the bat can sometimes win the point, but these players are training many hours a day, and can achieve predictable results with this technique.

For the rest of us, I think it's risky.

Of course, if the serve is long, you can always just attack the ball with strong top spin once it bounces beyond the table edge, no matter what spin is on the ball.

It's the short side spin serves that are the problem.

I think it's better long term to focus on techniques that allow you to attack the ball at every opportunity, instead of thinking passively. Give your own spin to the ball, and make your opponent deal with that, instead of you constantly having to deal with his.

For example, the back hand flick for short side spin serves, and the Chiquita technique for strong under spin (back spin) serves. These methods really make sense, because they're viewing the ball as you would a planet spinning on it's axis- there is much less spin as you approach the north/south  or east/west axis of the ball, so this is where you should be making contact.

I think Alois and Jeff have a video showing a ball with a length of string through it, explaining this basic idea.  


RJ K Posted 7 years ago

Alois did NOT say it was harder to learn the 'non angle swipe sideways too' technique, he said it was riskier, and he is quite probably correct in that assessment because I do not see anyone in the higher levels like the top levels using that sort of returning method I describe.    

BUT let's be realistic there is no chance that most of the lower and intermediate levels to ever get anywhere close to the top levels, so even though the angle bat return method is probably the correct textbook way to go it is extremely difficult to execute because you really have to understand the nature of the side-spin/back-spin and read it out of the opponent's racket and all that sort of keen observation   For lower level players and normal people like me who can barely see the other side of the table and your opponent their paddle is a small colored speck out in the distance somewhere it is beyond reason to calculate angles starting from your opponent's racket   Rather for simple consistent "let's just get the ball over to the other side of the table", not too high but fairly close to the net, the technique I describe is incredibly easy to do and is most natural for beginners to simply repeat the side-ways motion they see on the other side is ridiculously simple and it works every time with zero frustration, just give it a try   The one problem I notice is that it doesn't add any spin of your own much and sort of like a simple floater ball.  But again, for the lower levels the objective is not to smash necessarily but simply to get the ball to the other side of the table and this "no-angle swipe sideways" method achieves that in the most elegant way possible, several members of my club are using this now including myself and we are all more competitive overnight simply because we are no longer being demolished by side-spin we have a good chance now and are winning points and games  But I do agree we need to keep working on that angle bat return as an additional technique that one day may work. 

The technique of trying to attack the side-spin ball back, well, that is again probably the textbook way to play maybe but the lower levels aren't fit enough fast enough to try and smash the sidespin ball, one poor guy in my club he can do the side-spin serve really well but cannot receive it and he is trying so hard to smash it back because he doesn't get the angle technique he's even gone to a coaching session and hasn't helped and all he can do is attack it and 90% of the time it is out of bounds, I kind of feel sorry for him when I see him next I will try to teach him this "no angle bat" side-spin return it's just too easy to pass up  again, try it and you will be a happy soul simply because you are now consistently landing that impossible side-spin serve back over the other side, in itself is a big victory because at the lower levels you win not because your play is textbook but because you're getting the ball to the other side more often than not than you opponent  

Jon Ferguson

Jon Ferguson Posted 7 years ago

It really comes down to the level you are playing at, or more to the point, the level of your opponent.

At the higher levels, using your method, it is very difficult to control the ball's trajectory. If you are a beginner to intermediate player and using this return technique, and easily controlling the ball, then the amount of side spin on the ball from the server isn't great.

I have tried this method against a player from Singapore using pen hold grip, and it was impossible to move the bat fast enough to control where the ball went on the table. Even angling the bat to compensate for the side spin was difficult. He had played at international level, and his serves were almost impossible to return, at least for me. At club level, the 'go with the spin' method isn't effective when dealing with intense spin, unless you have similar training experience to your opponent.

As I mentioned earlier, if you think of the ball as a spinning planet and attack the axis points, whether side spin or back spin, you will have a much better chance of returning the ball with confidence. It will also show your opponent that you are not intimidated by his spinny serves.



RJ K Posted 7 years ago

There is another method may be worth discussing with respect to the side-spin serve returns.  This is the wait till the absolute last second, play the ball AFTER it has completed most of its spin rotations technique.  This seems to work for any type of side-spin, then one can treat it as a simple no spin ball.   This technique also avoids having to care about directions of opponent's paddle movements and all sorts of keen observations that require long distance sight, rather simply watch the ball after it crosses the net, wait a little bit more than usual and handle it after it completes spinning.   This seems to work for 1700 and under level of play at my club against a variety of players who run around doing side spin, with no worries whatsoever   It may be that the angle return method was more suitable for the lighter old school 38mm balls, while with the newer heavy 40mm poly balls spin rate drops dramatically in comparison so there is plenty of time to wait instead of sticking one's paddle at a side-spin ball and hoping you guessed all the angles and variations right seems not as essential.  

It also helps cut out the usefulness of deceptions business of using the same serve style for top-spin serve vs back-spin and all the rest of it, all you have to do here is wait get at the ball at the very last possible moment after it has finished most of its spinning, who cares how it spins just wait don't do anything to it until the last second     

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